The visit came after the National Fisheries Association of Thailand on Wednesday (June 12) threatened to stage protests in Bangkok if the new government ignored its demand to revise strict rules and regulations on trawlers and their crews.
“If these laws aren't changed, the fishermen will head to Bangkok and camp out in front of the Agriculture Ministry,” association president Mongkol Sukcharoenkhana told the Bangkok Post. (See story here.)
The rules were resulting in a shortage of workers in the fishing sector, forcing many operators out of business, he said.
The threats of protests in the capital came as fishing operators in Songkhla plan to meet on June 28 to discuss the problems that fishing operators have been putting up with over the past five years since the government began implementing measures aimed at curbing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, he said.
They will also seek remedies to these problems and draft a proposal for the government to compensate them, he said.
On Jan 8 this year, the European Union (EU) announced the lifting of its yellow card warning in recognition of the substantial progress Thailand has made in tackling IUU fishing since 2015.
The yellow card prompted Thailand to overhaul its fishing industry to meet international standards so as to avoid a threatened EU ban on Thai seafood imports.
Adisorn Phromthep, director-general of the Department of Fisheries, said the reforms were necessary as they should bring sustainability to the country's fishing sector.
They are also crucial to ensure transparency and traceability in every fishing process, he said.
To help ease the burden on fishing operators who have to provide paperwork to comply with requirements, the department has developed an electronic system called “Fisheries Single Window”, he added.
Future Forward leader Mr Thanathorn yesterday heard from local fishermen in Phuket how they faced a slew of problems from the restrictions enforced on small fishing operators in order to comply with anti-IUU regulations, and the onerous bureaucratic hurdles they needed to comply with just to make a living.
“I found that there are a lot of problems problem, including poor support from government officials, a lot of problems with permits and paperwork because of the many government departments involved, and the contradicting nature of trying to support both the tourism and fishing industries,” Mr Thanathorn said.
Mr Thanathorn stressed that his party supported the anti-IUU regulations, but also conceded that several issues overly affected small fishing operators.
“The problems are different in different areas. Fishing operators in the Andaman and the Gulf of Thailand, such as those in Samut Sakhon, all face their own unique problems, so we will look tackling the problems and coming up with solutions that are suitable for each area,” he said.
Among the problems detailed yesterday were that local fishermen were not allowed to fish more than three nautical miles offshore and that IUU regulations required that nets must not have mesh smaller than four-inches square in order to avoid catching small fish.
Simply registering fishing boats and fishing equipment was now overly coiomplex and time-consuming, the fishermen explained.
“Government inefficiencies and the use of authority to call for benefits is resulting in a penalty that is too high,” he said.
The party will push for the various laws to be amended in line with local fishermen’s traditional way of life.
“We will also look towards organising a forum for stakeholders between local fisheries and commercial fisheries to join in discussions at the area level in order to come up with suitabel solutions to these problems,” he said.
Other issues in Phuket that were brought to Mr Thanathorn’s attention were transportation, tourism and waste management issues.
“The first thing that we have to fix is transportation and learn how to improve the transportation infrastructure to be more effective.
“The next thing is to focus on the tourism attractions. We have been focusing on promoting the same old beaches and the same old island for too long, that why is the popularity of these has been declining. So we have to develop new places for tourists to come and enjoy,” he said.
“Another key issue is trash. We have to accept that more tourists means more trash. So we will try to solve that problem, too,” said Mr Thanathorn.
“A lot of these problems are already on our party’s agenda to change and fix,” he said.